Chapter III

"Murderous Fate Hath Brought a Tranquil Rage"

".Our castle's strength will laugh a siege to scorn."
-William Shakespeare,

Macbeth

I awoke lying next to a guard who held a gun standing at my right. He'd kicked me to wake me, and when I looked around to find that I was in the living area of my quarters aboard the personnel ship, I realized I was late for my duties.
I remembered the night before, leaving the Admiral's office, eating dinner, and then slowly and reluctantly making my way back to my quarters. I collapsed on the floor after I'd gotten there, berating myself as usual for no particular reason. Apparently, I'd fallen asleep, and, in effect, had forgotten to set my alarm to wake me for work. His majesty knows how late I must've been.
"Commander Anar?" the terse guard asked.
"Yes," I spoke drowsily, standing up. "Yes, I'm Anar."
"You've failed to report for duty!"
I sighed, rubbing at my cranial tentacles. "Yeah, no kidding. What's the time?"
"Your humans are nearly finished with their grooming," he said harshly. "Report to duty now. Master Ovarus himself orders you to report to his office aboard Star Dust immediately after your duty's end this day. Try not to be late for that."
The guard then left me there alone; I'd watched him leave, contemplating lunging at his throat whilst his back had been turned to me. I did feel terrible. I was ashamed to be late. A meeting with Master Ovarus after being Majesty knows that wasn't good.
I sighed to myself as I changed into a clean uniform. I applied the necessary sunblock as quickly as I could, hopped in a pod, and got down to the surface just in time to catch my humans before they had to head to classes. My fellow armira, who hadn't been the least bit happy with having to take on my responsibilities for even a second, greeted me quite hapless. "The next time you're late, I'm just going to let them rot in their chambers until you finally bring your tail down here to take care of them!" he'd said.
I'd answered him with a bit of a shameful frown, and, to my pleasure, he left immediately and with haste.
"I apologize to all of you for my tardiness," I announced to my humans, unable to help eyeing Maryline for most of the time, whom seemed almost to be hiding in the back behind everyone else. As for the rest of the group, none of them seemed to care in the least bit. Therefore, I just left it alone then and finished leading them to classes.
Then came the part I was dreading.
As I left them in the wings of Teacher Darv, I informed Maryline that she had to come with me.
"Where are you taking me?" she asked in a sweet, innocent voice as we left the classroom.
I looked down at her only for a moment. "You shouldn't speak," I said, trying not to sound nice, but at the same time trying not to sound mean. In fact, I was striving for a good monotone. I led her, not to a pod, but a small shuttle in the shuttle yard that had been set up for multiple-persons transports; pods were designed for one person only.
Once we got aboard Star Dust and into an elevator, she'd grown rather impatient herself. "Can't you just tell me where you're taking me?"
I gave her another quick glance, practically having to look straight down to look down at her. I couldn't quite find words to speak.
"I asked you a question."
"What are your parents' full names?" I asked, slamming the button to pause the elevator where it was, and turning toward her; I had to find out for myself what was going on. All I got back for the first five seconds, though, was furrowed brows. "When were they born?" I asked. Silence. I bombarded her with more questions. "What's your favorite food? Where did you like to hang out where you lived? What were the names of some of your friends?" I stopped finally.
Her confused look had gone to an angry stillness, and I knew then that she was no human. ".Are you an endeff?" I asked, quietly.
Silence.
Her bleak, quiet stare infuriated me. I wrapped my tail tightly around her waist, binding her arms to her sides and brought her up to my eye level, pressing her against a wall of the elevator. I leaned in close to her. "Why are you on earth?" I demanded.
A smug smile creased her face. "What makes you think I'll tell you any more than I'll tell your superiors? Which is nothing, I might add."
"Look, you insolent, useless piece of flesh!" I said in a rage, slamming my hand to the wall directly next to her head. "Your defiance doesn't quite fit under my wings, so unless you'd rather I try fitting your skull into my clenched fist, I suggest you answer me!"
"I'm not telling you a single thing, armira," she said, and she had obtained the monotone.
I drew my sword and placed the cold, flat side of the blade, nearly as wide as her entire head, sideways across her mouth. "You have no idea how much I want your blood to stain this blade," I spoke eerily quietly. "I can take this costume flesh off of you tissue by tissue, slicing it from you like you were bread. You-will-answer-me."
"You may have such ability, armira, but I know you have no such permission. Were you to dice me in such a way, your superiors would surely dice you for your insubordination. Now, before the people on the upper level start to really wonder what's taking this elevator so long, I suggest you put me down and take me where you've been ordered."
I sneered at her, inches from her face. Reluctantly, I suppressed my bloodlust and sheathed my sword, setting her down on her feet and releasing my tail's grasp of her. I turned back around and faced the elevator doors away from her. Before I pressed the button, though, I asked, "Just tell me one you have any idea why my people would order an attack on the earth?"
I'd felt her looking at me; I sensed her disgust. "I should've known," she said. "Your people would annihilate an entire race just to kill some of us."
My cranial tentacles twitched at that statement. I swallowed hard, and I felt it within my heart. "Why are you on earth?" I asked again, this time much more soft, my being in pain as it was.
There was an almost tangible period of silence, crushing me within its grasp, squeezing my very life from me. "Just get this over with, will you, armira?" she asked in a hopeless tone.
It hit me then that she wasn't going to make it out of that interrogation alive. Despite my discord with the endeff, I couldn't help but recognize the thought of helping her to escape. From my recently obtained knowledge of my people, I found myself blind, claustrophobic with darkness; I had no comprehension of who was enemy and who was friend anymore. I felt morally and ethically obliged to let her escape, but I also felt I'd be shoving my entire life out an airlock had I done so. I may as well have just tried flying through space without an oxygen tank, for I'd done nothing for the sake of goodness my entire life while working with my people. I could have turned it around right then. I could have rerouted the elevator back to the lower level and let her take an emergency pod and saved her life, possibly, along with my dignity. .But I pressed that button, and I reactivated the elevator. I took Maryline to where I'd been ordered to take her, and I knew then that was the last I'd ever see of her again.

I got the call when my humans were in their language class, learning some of the many languages of the hierarchy. I'd been in my quarters relaxing to a program of recorded diennan crying; diennan having being an aquatic mammal on the diarsa motherworld; it was basically like listening to whale song. The call had come in on my room's transceiver. As the red light on the wall of the communications panel blinked and let out a buzzing sound, I placed my glass of hahzrahd wine down on the steel table before my couch where I'd been lying, and reluctantly got up and answered it.
Teacher Elna's voice came through. "Commander Anar," he said, "I'm so sorry to have bothered you, but there's a problem down here that I believe you should be here for."
I didn't even ask. I said simply, "I'll be down in five minutes," shut off the diennan program, drank down the rest of the hahzrahd wine, and left. When I got to the surface, Teacher Elna greeted me outside of their classroom.
"What's the problem?" I asked curiously.
"It's one of your humans," he spoke, reluctantly, "a Jonathan Anderson." He paused as if to wonder how to explain it. "He's refusing to work. I flap my wings to you, Anar, I tried everything I could. I yelled at him, struck him, pulled out my sword and laid it to his neck, and, Majesty help me, I even gave him the ultimatum." He paused again, his face gone dreary. I could tell he did not want to tell me this. ".He wants to die, Anar. Had this been normal circumstances we would probably just have gone ahead and put him to death, shown the others a thing or two about refusing, that we're serious about what we say. But, blast it Anar, he wants to die. I went ahead and dug into his mind with my own. He's got a history with his people of being suicidal. He's supposed to be on some sort of medication. I know not what to do."
I let out a heavy sigh, and my body went limp as my eyes fell to the ground and shut. Only two days and already one human had turned out not to be human after all and had likely already been killed and another wanted to be killed. Majesties, and I thought I had been good at that job. The last thing I wanted was for any of them to die. Like Elna had said, had this been normal circumstances, we would have had to just put him death and shown the others that we were serious, but that human was suicidal. I'd never had a problem like that before; humans must have been the only people in the universe that have ever wanted to be nonexistent.
Majesties, Universe! Relent, blast you, relent! I cried inside my head. I was so utterly tired of dealing with those infernal problems that were constantly thrust upon me. In fact, I was left for probably the millionth time thinking about how "happiness" must have been a really pissed off person because it seemed to get the crap beat out of it an awful lot.
I let out another sigh, this one smaller, but a sigh nonetheless.
.Actually, it was a cough, but I often denied that I'd coughed when I coughed because when I coughed it was usually followed by a fortnight of weary illness and constant diennan crying as I lied in bed in my quarters, hoping the medical chief wouldn't try ordering me to the infirmary to be splayed open like some sort of bloody museum or art gallery.
Finally, I looked back up from the carpeted floor to Elna. "Alright," I said, tiredly, "bring him out here for me, would you?"
Elna walked back into the classroom and came back out a few seconds later followed by a tall, dark-haired young male. His full name was Jonathan Michael Anderson. I remembered then the story he'd sent me the night before on the assignment I'd given them all of telling me about the roles that fate had played in their lives, that I'd also just remembered I'd actually read all of the night before, just before I tried going to sleep. It was from that story of his that I'd been able to deduce that he was quite an intelligent young a human teenager at least. The only essays better than his were Maryline's and another young girl who was in my unit named Rebecca Hauge whom had also not actually given me a story, but had rather argued with me about how I was wrong about fate and that we set our own paths. I hadn't quite concurred with it, but it was interesting and, admittedly, quite logical. She put up a good argument.
The issue at hand then, however, was Jonathan. I looked into his empty face, feeling that emptiness crawl down my throat and take lodging inside my heart. I sensed his hopelessness as I had sensed Maryline's earlier in the elevator. This thought worried me in that I was afraid I might end up leading him to his death as I had her. That was quite very the last thing I wanted to do.
"Why do you want to die, Jonathan?" I asked gently, kneeling down before him, however still having to look down at him.
"Why not?" he said with a grave tone. "What's the point of even living if a person can't be free?"
I looked upon him with curious eyes, seriously considering what he'd just said. My colleague, however, Elna, hadn't taken a moment's thought of it. "The point of living," he argued, "is to contribute to your society and your people; to help your race to thrive and become its best to outlive the ends of time. What you are being is selfish and arrogant!"
Funny, those words sounded familiar to me. It wouldn't hit me until five seconds later that those were the exact words I'd said to the first person I'd ever had to kill during a mission such as this, which was a young qivvez nearly twenty-five years before who'd downright refused to do anything no matter what I said or did. I'd believed it then, too, and I'd had no problem at all putting my blade through his flesh in front of a crowd of qivvez afterward. What had changed? Why had it changed? Those questions lingered within me like a relentless shadow, exigent. I was so desperate to end the chaos and madness within me that I again cried out inside my head, asking what it was I'd done to deserve such torture. I hated it. Part of me wanted it to not be there at all; part of me wished I was still the same armira I'd always been, unquestioning, and simply buying into that whole "we're doing your people a favor" crap, but I just couldn't do it anymore. Jonathan was right; what was the point of living without freedom?
I refused, right then and there, to sentence that boy to death, whether he wanted it or not. I would not let his life be hung up in front of everyone as a bloody public spectacle like I'd done to others before.
He'd said nothing in reply to Elna's words; his eyes had only sunk to the floor. Mine laid rest upon him, watching him, studying him, feeling what he felt through my empathy. .Perhaps that was it. Perhaps those humans were the first race I'd been assigned to with emotions strong enough to be forced upon my empathic senses so that I could feel what they felt, know how they felt, and actually feel like one of them. But why, then, did none of my other people feel it? No, it had to have been something else. Something a bit more complicated. I found the enigma fascinating, however annoying. I needed answers. I would struggle for answers.
I looked to Elna. "Could you let me talk to him alone?" I asked as if it were nothing. Elna gave me a nod and went back into the classroom. Jonathan watched me then as I watched him. "Jonathan," I said softly, "give me some time, will you? I understand what you're saying, I really do. Part of me even agrees with you, but it's like trying to build a starship out of thin air; there's just nothing we can do about it. I understand that your people have a saying that 'one person can make a difference' but it undergoes degradation when it comes from a single planet's population of six billion to nearly half a galaxy of a population of nine hundred trillion. As our perception grows, reality gets bigger and the power of the individual grows shorter; the more people the less control. Now there is no way I'm going to make a public spectacle out of an intelligent young being as yourself, and your smart enough to understand that. So, please, Jonathan, just try to comply, I know it's hard, but try and I promise I'll do my best to make things easier on all of you." I paused, letting what I'd said sink in. "Now, what do you say?"
He looked down from me and frowned. When his emotionless face settled again on the ground, seemingly bemused, he nodded and I was able to relax a bit. I led him back into the classroom, told Elna in our own language so that the humans wouldn't understand it that I'd taken care of the problem, and that he should go about the rest of the day as usual. When I left, however, it struck me that I wasn't entirely sure Jonathan was being honest when he nodded at me.

"I sense great despondency within you, Anar," Bjevorikk said as we sat watching the humans on the construction grounds later that day.
Class had gone all right, better than expected. After I told them each what I thought about their essays we had a nice group discussion about it, and I'd had hopes that Rebecca might get herself involved and discuss her beliefs on how we set our own paths, but she was more than anti-social to the entire class.
Then, as I felt that invisible force of nothingness, looking up at the earth's blue sky and strings of white puffs strewn sparsely about it, my thoughts were on the happenings in their whole of the last three days. The birds chirped endlessly and everywhere, crisscrossing the sky overhead like warring aircraft, and I watched every bit of my surroundings along with them, feeling the immensity of the earth's being upon me.
"Then you already know why," I said back to him, finally, knowing full well that he'd already read my mind. I, personally, hardly cared.
"You really should be careful of your thoughts, Anar," he said seriously. "The wrong officer reads that and you're going to have a real hard time explaining it to Admiral Noltass."
I looked at him both surprised and outraged. "I'm still complying to my duties!" I shot at him defiantly. "I'm still doing everything I'm supposed to be doing. Therefore, I'm not doing anything wrong, thus they'd have no reason for becoming angry with me."
"Anar, just be careful, would you?" he said a little impatient. "Yes, they can't prosecute you for your mere thoughts, but I know that if they tried it would be, as humans say, the 'last straw' for you. I don't want you doing something stupid that's going to either get you court- martialed or turned to a lifeless heap of flesh before the King Himself."
"What we're doing is wrong, Bjevorikk," I said standing up and turning around to face him.
"Anar, you've never had any problem doing this before," he argued back. "Why should it be any different now? Why these people? Why not the lreen or the mulkrit? Why humans? They're no different from any of us. What we're doing is for their greater good, you know that. Individual freedom is a reward, not something you're born with."
"Then what is the point of living! Sure, others will be happy in the future, but what about your happiness?"
"That's called being selfish!" he shot back.
"That's a person's own natural right!" I shot back myself. "Look at all of the other creatures and species we classify as 'lower lifeforms', Bjevorikk. Do you see them going out of their way to help each other out? Do you see them sacrificing themselves for each other?"
"Exactly, Anar! That is because we can calculate the gravitational effect on an object in a decaying orbit of stellar matter, and they crawl around planets on all limbs, naked and eating each other. They aren't intelligent like us."
I turned my back to him, wanting to give up; I was tired of yelling. As I looked back up into the blue sky of the earth, however, heard those birds, saw them, saw the sky, felt the wind and calmness, heard the rustling of the trees, I sensed a powerful force there. "What if they are different?" I asked quietly.
"What if they're what?"
"What if they are special? What if, for some strange reason, the human race is better than the rest? What if they're better than we are? What if there's something about them that says they don't deserve what we're doing to them?"
"That's ridiculous!" he retorted quickly. "What should make them any better than the millions of other races out there? Majesties, their planet isn't the bloody center of the universe, Anar."
"Something is wrong, Bjevorikk. I don't know why I believe they may be different. His Majesty knows, I've thought my bloody tail off trying to figure it out, but I can't."
"Law of Life number three," he said quietly, "'the universe is incomprehensible; don't try to understand it, because you can't.' You're not going to always be able to understand the universe, Anar. It's strange, it's weird, and sometimes it's just plain demented. Accept it."
"I could use that same point with you. I can say the same thing to you and then ask you 'so why, then, can they not be special' for some strange, weird, or demented reason?" I sighed, and my voice calmed a little more as my gaze went from him to the humans. "This argument is futile."
"You're right," he said. "So just sit down and we'll forget it."
I did just that. Sitting back down next to him, my eyes went back to the humans, and I found myself wondering what could be special about them? There were the things I admired about them. All humans were different from each other; it had been as if each one of them was a member of a different alien race, making peace with some and declaring war on others. The problem I had was with their more immature natures; each and every adolescent seemed to be a bloody hypocrite. They valued their individuality, yet they made fun of each other's differences. It made no sense. It was those little reasons that I'd used to try and justify what my people did. It was those things that humans needed to become aware of. Someone had to show them; someone had to stop them in the sand and make them walk back and kick dirt over their tracks so a predator wouldn't creep up behind them and tear them to shreds. Ironically, that predator usually turned out to be their own shadow.

When I got to Star Dust after my duties were over for the meeting with Master Ovarus, I realized I'd done it in vain. For the guard at his office told me he'd ended up in an emergency meeting with superior powers and that I was to forget about meeting with him at all unless I screwed up again. Not that that bothered me in the least; saved me from a degrading lecture from the Unit Master. I was utterly relieved. Not knowing what else to do, I decided to see if I could get a hold of Verbadnn.
He'd just gotten off duty himself and had been getting ready to have dinner in the mess hall aboard the personnel ship. I caught him over his transceiver while he was getting ready in his quarters and told him I'd meet him there. Actually, part of the reason I wanted to see him was to see if he'd heard anything else unusual lately. Perhaps he'd know what that whole "emergency meeting" was about.
He didn't.
In fact, he hadn't heard anything unusual since the last time we spoke. So I figured that since no one had taken the time to tell me the whole endeff infiltrate thing was to be kept secret, I thought I'd let him in on it.
"What would an endeff be doing on earth?" he asked rhetorically.
Indeed, what would an endeff be doing on earth? The endeff were an insectoid race from a system practically three hundred light-years from Sol. Eight years before, when we entered the endeff's territory to do the same to them that we were doing to the humans, they'd posed more of a challenge than we'd estimated. Almost as advanced as us, they'd labeled us "invaders" and declared a defensive war. Like all before them, the endeff fought back. The only difference was they had actually posed a bit of a threat.
While the King and the Royal Families toyed with the notion of simply expelling the entire endeff race from existence rather than waste resources and mir-power ("mir" as in "armira") on a ridiculous war, the indestructible armies of our Safeguard Nobility divisions of HMM led mir after mir into battle against the opposition, themselves carried by the honorable, brute force of the Noble Knights of Starbird Legion. With each battle they inched their way closer and closer to victory, utterly unbeknownst to the fact that the endeff had been producing chemical weapons in their secret laboratories hidden beneath the surface off their motherworld. With our forces positioned in their forward regions, they were able to move their chemical weapons into exactly the right places to literally wipe out our entire fleet at the mere push of a button. The only thing that stopped them was their own ethical and moral code of law. They negotiated a stalemate with the King Himself and the Treaty of Temlar was signed two months later.
There had been several rebel factions, however, who felt we were a hostile, conquering race seeking total dominion, and that we needed to be gotten rid of. They sought cooperation with the rest of their people to succeed this, but, according to their Empress, she'd rejected their proposals and exiled them to barren worlds. This claim, though from the endeff Empress herself, had been questionable.
With rumors flying about the Kingdom of supposedly foiled terroristic attacks kept secret by the King and His Chosen Noble, all tails were set at ready against the only people thought to do such a thing, the endeff.
In either case, I would have thought the possibility of an endeff posing as a human a random and paranoid accusation. Surely I would have been able to read such a thing telepathically with a mere glance at her. The endeff had no psychic abilities; they were as unequipped as humans were. There was simply no way for an endeff to block a mind read psychically, which was the only way known how. And, unfortunately, it hadn't occurred to me to ask the endeff that earlier that day in the elevator.
"I would've slit its bloody throat," Verbadnn said.
"Oh, I wanted to, badly, for quite a while there," I said.
Eventually, we moved on to other matters.
"I heard you were late for work today," he said.
I frowned, stuffing some green, leafy foods into my mouth. "News travels fast around here."
"Eh, it's a small planet," he said, shrugging.
"Bigger than ours," I pointed out.
"I know," he said casually. Which was true, the earth was much bigger than our world. "That's too bad about that Jonathan Anderson. I couldn't imagine someone actually wanting to die."
I raised my brows at him, realizing then that he'd read my mind. "Humans are strange that way."
"You really think there's anything special about them?" he asked curiously.
I gave him a nonchalant look, not saying anything for a while. Stuffing some more greens into my mouth I looked to my left toward the viewing port where one could see the earth sitting serenely below. I couldn't help but feel like I was looking at something totally new, like a new discovery, an anomaly of some sort. I think I felt like how the very first armira to ever sit in orbit of a black hole must've felt like, sitting there, utterly ignorant as to what or why that black hole was. As I pulled my gaze back from the earth then, I looked back at Verbadnn and said, "I think it would be strange if there wasn't anything special about them."
I stuffed some more greens into my mouth.